Who Was Jean-Paul Sartre?

Who Was Jean-Paul Sartre?

What do we mean by saying that existence precedes essence? We mean that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards. . . . there is no human nature, because there is no God to have a conception of it. . . . Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself . . .

- Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Jean-Paul Sartre, the French novelist, playwright, and philosopher who became the king of intellectual Paris and a focus of post war politics and morals. Sartre's own life was coloured by jazz, affairs, Simone de Beauvoir and the intellectual camaraderie of Left Bank cafes. He maintained an extraordinary output of plays, novels, biographies, and philosophical treatises as well as membership of the communist party and a role in many political controversies. He produced some wonderful statements: "my heart is on the left, like everyone else's", and "a human person is what he is not, not what he is", and, most famously "we are condemned to be free".

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Sartre

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

In this age in which all shall have prizes, in which every winning author knows what’s necessary in the post-award trial-by-photoshoot (Book jacket pressed to chest? Check. Wall-to-wall media? Check. Backdrop of sponsor’s logo? Check) and in which scarcely anyone has the couilles, as they say in France, to politely tell judges where they can put their prize, how lovely to recall what happened on 22 October 1964, when Jean-Paul Sartre turned down the Nobel prize for literature.

“I have always declined official honours,” he explained at the time. “A writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution. This attitude is based on my conception of the writer’s enterprise. A writer who adopts political, social or literary positions must act only within the means that are his own – that is, the written word.”...

Continue reading Stuart Jeffries' article: Jean-Paul Sartre: more relevant now than ever

Further Reading

Sartre (1905–1980) is arguably the best known philosopher of the twentieth century. His indefatigable pursuit of philosophical reflection, literary creativity and, in the second half of his life, active political commitment gained him worldwide renown, if not admiration. He is commonly considered the father of Existentialist philosophy, whose writings set the tone for intellectual life in the decade immediately following the Second World War. Among the many ironies that permeate his life, not the least is the immense popularity of his scandalous public lecture “Existentialism is a Humanism,” delivered to an enthusiastic Parisian crowd October 28, 1945. Though taken as a quasi manifesto for the Existentialist movement, the transcript of this lecture was the only publication that Sartre openly regretted seeing in print. And yet it continues to be the major introduction to his philosophy for the general public. One of the reasons both for its popularity and for his discomfort is the clarity with which it exhibits the major tenets of existentialist thought while revealing Sartre's attempt to broaden its social application in response to his Communist and Catholic critics. In other words, it offers us a glimpse of Sartre's thought “on the wing.”...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Jean-Paul Sartre by Thomas Flynn

Bonus Webcomic

Door to Door Existentialism - Existential Comics

Related Topics

If you’re interested in the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

 Authenticity | Camus | Continental Philosophy

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